Interview with Dr. Michael Binder, Director Sustainability Development, Evonik Nutrition & Care GmbH

1. Mr. Binder, when ones hear of EVONIK, Food does not come to mind immediately. However, the company has been active in the food sector for years. What exactly is Evonik doing there?

The Nutrition & Care segment of Evonik is involved in a wide variety of nutritional topics. Firstly, with modern technologies, products and services for healthy, efficient and sustainable animal nutrition, we contribute to provide people with valuable animal protein - with the least possible ecological footprint. Our essential amino acids such as MetAMINO® or Biolys® help to reduce the raw protein in animal feed and to compensate for nutritional deficiencies. In addition, Evonik has built up a portfolio of ingredients for dietary supplements as well as its own first products for the consumer in recent years.

2. Evonik is active to provide dietary supplements for humans, to determine the gender of chickens already in the egg, to use seaweed for the production of omega-3 fatty acid-containing oils for salmon farming – Where do you see the future of food production in Germany?

The future of food production – both in Germany and globally – is to use natural resources as efficiently as possible. That means no longer using more soil, water and raw materials as absolutely needed; and not burden humans and the environment unnecessarily with production, transport etc.. In order to meet this objective, we have to look at the entire value chain to find and close nutrient cycles. Our concept of circular farming is a positive example: By deliberately adding amino acids to animal feed, recycling manure and dung in a biogas plant, and using the fermentation residue as fertilizer, the nitrogen and phosphorus surplus in agriculture can be significantly reduced. Something similar could be also possible in the field of aquaculture.

3. Let's talk about seaweed technology. EVONIK plans to replace fish oil with algae oil. Why?

So far, in aquaculture, salmon or shrimp are fed with fodder, which comes to a considerable extent from marine resources. Fishmeal as a source of protein and fish oil for the supply of omega-3 fatty acids are obtained from fish caught only for this purpose. Just imagine: In order to produce one kilogram of salmon in aquaculture, two kilograms of wild fish are needed. Our joint venture Veramaris aims to meet the growing demand for omega-3 fatty acids for fish farming without over-exploiting marine resources. That's why we use natural seaweed, which produce an omega-3 fatty acid oil by fermenting sugar. This year, this will provide a new opportunity for consumers, who wants to meet his demand for essential omega-3 fatty acids by eating salmon. 

4. Nowadays, dietary supplements are extreamly attractive/ a growing trend. What trends do you also see in the human diet?

Currently, the approach of personalized nutrition is causing furore. Of course, Evonik also researches in this field. It is a fascinating idea: Looking ahead, people could determine their individual nutritional needs and on this basis, adjust their diet. It´s where dietary supplements becoming increasingly important. But actually, it begins much earlier – in the production of animal protein. In an ideal case, all levels are used to compensate potential nutritional deficiencies.

5. You are responsible for sustainability in the Nutrition & Care segment of Evonik. What role does sustainability play while EVONIK is looking for innovations in the food sector?

I see feed and food as a unit. What matters in the end, is to provide healthy and safe food for the society. In order to meet this demand and to reduce the burden on society and the environment, we need modern technologies – in agriculture and animal breeding as well as in food processing, transport and in individual food preparation. To me, this also means that all societal costs caused by consumption or nutrition are included in an overall ecological and economic assessment of the supply chain, such as the health costs of unhealthy diets or environmental problems in the context of agriculture. This holistic approach could trigger a great innovation potential among all partners in the value chain. Here, Evonik plays a key role: We not only supply products, but in most cases system solutions. Our high innovation potential, driven by sustainability, is vital for our company and essential to foster improvements along the entire value chain.

6. A project that you would like to introduce?

Besides the practical innovations we have already mentioned, we are also endeavour to improving scientific methods, to answer questions about the water footprint of a product, breaking new ground in the life cycle assessment of food or tracking changes in biodiversity in marine ecosystems. One current example is our involvement in the research project WELLE, funded by the Federal Ministry of Education and Research (BMBF). The aim of this project is to develop a method for determining the water footprint of companies, which identifies local environmental impacts within the global value chains. Often the production site has not the largest water consumption, but suppliers and upstream chain of energy and material. Even in regions with a lack of water. We are participating in the collaborative project with two case studies to test and optimize the new methodology.